Site123’s homepage states that it’s “by far the easiest free website builder”. Better put that claim to the test.
Click on the service’s welcome page’s ‘Start here’ to grab yourself 500MB of storage, 1GB of bandwidth a month and your first design decision: what type of website do you want to create? You have to choose from one of sixteen options, from Business, to Online Store, Blog, Music, and Creativity, amongst others.
Select one (we went for ‘Blog’ to start with), and you’re then graced with a further 8 subdivisions – if you’re not sure what to choose or would rather not get pigeonholed so early in the creation process, select ‘Other’.
None of these options actually matter too much as you’re able to add and remove pages later on as you take full control of your website.
Customizing your website
Once your blog is created, you have a handful of customisation options to suit your website needs. Click on the Homepage section in the sidebar to see how you can modify the default layout. You could for instance add a search field to the middle of your home page, or a ‘contact’ form, or even a video.
But the selection you’ll find in that section’s ‘Layouts’ menu are meagre, and the preview images, although welcome, are hard to discern properly, especially since many of them contain subtle alterations from one to the other. It’s often best to click on them and see what they look like as they’re implemented in the main preview section of the interface.
As you explore, you’ll come across some features that are locked, like in the ‘Form’ menu for instance. These are only available if you upgrade your free account to a paid one (more on this later).
Looking at the blog options, the design will feel familiar to anyone who’s used a word processor. Click on the blog section’s ‘Manage Page’ to see all posts already created. You’ll see that a few are already there – examples to show you how the blog looks like and works. Click on them to edit them, or just get rid of them using ‘Delete’ from their ‘Manage’ options. To create a new one, click on ‘Add New Post’, and start typing. You can add images and videos, include tags and a featured image. It’s all pretty easy and straightforward, enabling you to get started in no time at all.
In terms of layout, we were unable to wrap text around an image. Sure we could format said image, change its size by dragging its edges, add a link to it, or a caption, but even choosing the ‘inline’ option wouldn’t make the text wrap around it. As it stands the image can only have text above and below it.
As mentioned earlier, you aren’t bound by your original website decision. Should you need to add more pages to your website, they’re only a few clicks away. To do this, go to the Sidebar’s ‘Pages’ section. You can include ‘Articles’ (which appear to be a blog in all but name), a ‘Testimonial’ page, a ‘Team’ page, a ‘Gallery’, and even a whole ‘e-Commerce’ section and an ‘App Market’ (among others).
The e-Commerce section is again extremely easy and straightforward to use. You can add new items, create new categories, highlight the fact some products are new or for sale, etc. The free version of the service only allows your customers to pay by bank transfer, cash on delivery, check, money order, in person or by phone. The more vital features for an online business, like PayPal, AmazonPay, or Stripe, amongst others, can only be accessed if you upgrade to a paid version of the service.
Not everyone will be needing an e-commerce service, and anyone setting one up might well expect to pay for the privilege, so this shouldn’t be a hindrance to many.
You’re not limited to a single type of the above pages: you could have multiple blogs, galleries and e-commerces within the same website should you so choose. As long as you give them different names, it won’t get too confusing in the navigation menu.
That menu is populated automatically and is ever present at the top of your site. As you’d expect, it’s also customisable. Most of the pages you’ve added to your site will appear here. There are exceptions, such as the ‘Promos’, which break up your main page with some information you’ll deem worthy to put there.
And that’s the thing about the websites Site123 helps you create: all the pages you’ve added, your galleries, blogs, articles, etc, aren’t actually pages… they all appear on the main page, one after the other; scroll down, and you’ll eventually get to them all. This can get confusing and cluttered after a while, especially as you write more and more blog posts or put more photos in your galleries. You can use the header menu to quickly get to the section you’re interested in (as you do, you get a nice fast scrolling effect until you reach the section), but although the customisation invites complexity and numerous sections, we wouldn’t recommend you go too crazy, and limit your design to just a handful of them.
Site123 gives you a free web address to publish your site to, but it’s as far from memorable as you can get – just a series of random letter and numbers, followed by ‘.site123.me’.
If you want a more catchy URL, or if you already have one and would like to link your site to it, you have to pay for the privilege.
The Basic option will set you back $11 per month – if you pay for a year – this price includes a free domain name for a year. The price drops further if you commit to two or three years instead.
You have additional tiers, Advanced, Professional and Gold. If you’re looking for online payment options for your e-commerce, the last two are your only two options which cost $24 and $30 a month for one year’s subscription respectively.
Should you choose to purchase a plan within 72 hours of trying out the free service, you can get any of the top three (ie, any except for Basic) at a not-to-be-sneezed-at 40% discount.
All plans progressively increase your storage and bandwidth allocation, but there are no unlimited options – the maximum you’re given – with Gold – is 270GB of storage and 135GB of bandwidth per month. You can try any of these plans free for 14 days should you wish.
Overall, Site123 is easy to use. Although somewhat limited, your customisation options are clear and easy to implement. The main preview of your website as you create it and experiment works great, but the layout options don’t favour a complex site with too many sections.
If your needs are simple, and want something that looks good with little effort, Site123 might well be worth you taking it for a spin.